Claire Adams is a member of at least two of Kansas City's most celebrated bands, the seven-plus member ensemble Claire and the Crowded Stage, which she leads, and Katy Guillen & The Girls, for which she plays bass. A talented songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist, Adams's music has been described as "joyful, raucous stuff, and perfectly danceable," all apt descriptions for The Crowded Stage's latest album, Kamikaze. We're delighted to share music from some of Claire's various projects, as well as an interview with and book recommendations.
Please introduce yourself. Where do you live and work? What does a typical day look like for you?
I live in Midtown, Kansas City, Missouri. I play shows and teach ukulele and guitar lessons, practice a lot, garden, bake. I also watch my nephew a few mornings a week. A typical day starts at 7:30 am and goes until about midnight.
Your album Kamikaze was released just about a year ago. What are you learning about your own craft or the recording process that has surprised you?
The writing, arranging and recording of Kamikaze was such a drawn out and pieced together process. About 3 years, a million overdubs, retaking and reimagining parts and I still think of things I would like to change about it. I think I learned two key lessons from that album: New ideas will always emerge for songs and is part of their lifeblood, and never record yourself unless you know when to stop. I have always enjoyed recording and mixing, being very hands on, but I feel like including objective ears in the process is really important. Looking to the future, I imagine a more live approach to the next album.
Many words have been used to describe your music – quirky, eccentric, unclassifiable, adventurous are only four of them. In another interview you describe the origins of The Crowded Stage as almost an accident, a collision of influences and talent, much like the musical influences you cite as inspiration. Where does this creative fearlessness come from? Who most inspired you early on to create music?
Big question! Indecision? Lack of discipline? Poetry was one of my earliest interests, so my adventure towards songwriting definitely started there and music came later. Probably not so much fearlessness as indecision. I've always loved the versatility of simple songs, a handful of chords that can be played in so many different styles. And I've always loved so many different styles of music... starting with my parent's diverse but small record and tape collection, but I had a lot of trouble with studying instruments as a child, I'm sure I disappointed several music teachers. My first love was poetry, and I didn't really settle into a instrument until my sister started playing guitar in high school, and I started writing really bad, really angsty songs on it right away. I really latched onto punk and folk music as a teenager. After a few months of playing around on my own, I started taking lessons when I was about thirteen. I found a lot of freedom in guitar, and the way my teachers approached the instrument, that I hadn't found with piano or vocal lessons, and I would just play all the time. Going to college in Nashville, many afternoons and evenings and late nights were spent jamming with friends. I started playing in bands, and just got absolutely hooked on it. I'd play guitar or bass, sometimes drums, sometimes keys, sing harmonies, whatever. Jill of all trades, master of none. Approaching an instrument from a straight up creative perspective, and then filling the gaps in my technical deficit necessary for an specific part has kind of been my approach, until recently, and I think that allowed me to try new instruments and styles without worrying to much about being perfect. The last few years, playing bass for Katy Guillen & The Girls and working with a variety of amazing musicians in The Crowded Stage, it's become more important to develop my technical abilities, musical vocabulary, and more objective skills. That's been exciting and fun, and I'm a little bit more disciplined these days.
Who or what currently inspires you? What music are you raving about?
One of the best things about being on the road a lot is listening to music in the car. A few of my favorites include the Heartless Bastards, and Lake Street Dive. I'm currently in love with the new Grisly Hand album, Flesh & Gold. I really love the Kansas City music scene and I find so much inspiration in being a part of the same music community as so many of my favorite bands and musicians, and what is being created here.
Where and how do you record your music? What advice do you have for others who want to do the same?
I've recorded in a bunch of different studios, a bunch at homes, and engineered/mixed quite a bit of the material I've released (and not released). I think if you've got the software and a few decent mics, making demos at home is a great way to develop ideas. I also think I've finally learned that a recording is an investment of so much time, creativity, and care, that it is really worth investing in a dedicated, professional engineer and a professional studio space. We fortunately have several right here in Kansas City. And never mix yourself, especially vocally. But really, it just depends what you're going for.